Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Women on Writing : Karissa Knox Sorrell

Exactly one year ago two things happened: 1) I found out I was pregnant and 2) I stopped hosting my monthly Woman on Writing series, out of sheer exhaustion and distraction. My next interview would have been August 2014, and since I'm finally settling into a rhythm with a now almost 4 month old, why not pretend that a year hasn't passed and pick up where I left off? You can check out the first seven interviews with some amazing female writers here

I couldn't be happier to come back with this interview with one of my favorite writer friends. Karissa Knox Sorrell is the real deal. She is one of the hardest working writers I know and just a really nice person. Plus her poetry chapbook, Evening Body, releases this fall! You can preorder it here and you'll be entered into a giveaway for three books and a Starbucks card. (Sounds like a lovely writer's date to me.) I really appreciate Karissa's wise yet down-to-earth thoughts on writing here and I hope you do too. 


When did you first begin to write poetry? What drew you to it?

I wrote a lot of poetry as a child. I think I enjoyed the language of it - how so many things could be said in such a succinct form. Now I see poetry as a safe place to experience and wrestle with the deepest of human emotions - fear, shame, pain, and even extreme joy. 

What authors or works most inspire your writing?

The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck and Rose by Li-Young Lee are favorites that I go back to over and over. I also enjoy Mary Oliver, Marie Howe, Gregory Orr, and Rainer Maria Rilke. 

How did your upcoming collection, Evening Body come about? What are some of its central themes?

When I got my MFA in Creative Writing, I had to write a creative thesis, and some of these poems come from that. Others are newer poems. The title poem ("Evening Body") is about winter trees and how fragile they seem, but on another level it is metaphoric for the human condition. There are times when all our leaves are gone and we are left bare and seemingly broken, and yet we keep standing. In the book, nature is metaphoric for the human experience over and over again. In one poem, the nurturing of a moonflower vine symbolizes a difficult relationship. In another, I pose a basket star (sea animal) against a star in space and use the contrast to try to ask what humans make most important. I also use a lot of common objects and events and turn them into weighty moments in these poems: building a snowman, riding a train, peeling potatoes. I believe there is meaning even in the mundaneness of our lives. I think the idea of a body is really applicable to many parts of our lives. What do we do when one part doesn't work like it should? What else do we need to keep the breathing element of our lives alive? I think that these poems ask those questions. 

What would be your ideal writing environment? How do you make time and space in your life for the practice of writing?

I have a desk in a corner of our living room, and it has helped me to create a little space with pictures and quotes on the wall that inspire and calm me. I have two active kids and both my husband and I work full-time, so it's hard to find time to write. I have learned that I can write even if my kids are in the room watching TV or doing homework. For a while I was getting up super early in the morning to write, but after two years of that, I decided I needed a change. I may not write every day now, but I do try to write a couple of nights a week and on the weekend. I actually feel like when I stopped pressuring myself to write so much, the writing flowed more easily. 

If you could give one piece of advice to budding writers what would it be?

This will sound cliche, but read. Read lots of examples of the genre you write. If you find a poet or writer you like, try copying them. Steal a first line of theirs. Write a poem in a similar style. Through these exercises, you'll eventually discover your own voice and your own message. Also, though writing is a solitary activity, we can't write in a bubble. Find a community of writers, writers group, or some kind of workshop, even if they are online. I got to go to two writing workshops this summer, and it was so great to spend some time with other writers and get feedback on my poems. 


Karissa Knox Sorrell is a poet, writer, and ESL teacher from Nashville, Tennessee. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in a variety of literary journals, including Gravel Mag, St. Katherine Review, Relief Journal, and Silver Birch Press. Karissa's essay, "Wrestling with God in the Arthouse Theater," will be published in an anthology called Soul Bare, forthcoming in Fall 2016 from InterVarsity press. Karissa writes about faith, doubt, writing, and family life at her blog. You can also occasionally find her tweeting at @KKSorrell